Throughout the history of art, technology has pushed experimentation, said Nina Bozicnik, assistant curator at the Currier Museum of Art. In the mid-19th century, the invention of pre-mixed paints allowed artists to work more in the natural environment, which led to plein air painting, a practice still popular today.
Something similar occurred with video art, which exploded into the art world in the late 1960s when the Sony Corporation released the Portapack, an accessible piece of equipment that captured moving images. Prior to this, to record video was expensive and done primarily in the commercial and film industry. It was also done by way of 8- or 16-millimeter film and did not have the immediate playback feature that video provided. This relatively affordable technology became available at the same time that avant garde performance art and the rising media culture were coming into vogue. Video art should not be confused with experimental or art house cinema. It is its own entity entirely.
“Shifting Terrain: Landscape Video” opens July 2 and will feature moving-image artworks by seven artists (Louisa Conrad, Julia Hechtman, Liz Nofziger, Daniel Phillips, Jeannie Simms, Suara Welitoff and Mary Ellen Strom), all with ties to New England, as the exhibit is part of the museum’s Spotlight New England Artist Series, which showcases early- and mid-career artists in the area. Some of these works will be conventional — images fired straight from a projector. Others show how far art video has come.
Strom’s installations “Dead Standing” and “Selva Oscura: Drawing of Dead Standing” include two perpendicular 15-foot-wide projections. One shows footage of a pine forest in Montana that has been ravished by beetles, while the other is of Strom making a charcoal drawing, from memory, of the same forest. In the installation there will also be a bench made of pine from the forest.
In Nofziger’s “Pore” visitors will view through a small peep hole that will show live video of what is happening on the Manchester street beyond the walls of the museum. This is a contemporary take on the viewing glass, which is common in scenic places around the world.
“These installations show the variety of ways we can visually, physically and auditorially experience these work,” Bozicnik said.
Bozicnik said the Currier’s managers have previously hosted video installations but never an entire exhibit in which they transformed one of the main galleries. Before settling on a theme, Bozicnik visited studios and conferred with her peers about which artists she should know. When she decided on the landscape theme it became obvious which artists the museum should showcase.
As this may be many visitors’ first exposure to video art, Bozicnik wanted to make sure there was a wide range of approaches to subject and the medium. For example, the work of Welitoff features images of industrial water-cooling towers, which could be found on nuclear power facilities, while Simms juxtaposes expansive desert shots with manicured lawns in housing developments.
While there are differences between the works, they are unified by the theme. Bozicnik said she chose the landscape theme because it was something that would resonate with the museum’s audience. It was important for the audience to be familiar with the theme (landscape paintings are very popular in New Hampshire) so they would have a base on which to ground their reactions. She also hoped it would expand upon the traditional notions of landscape art.
Since so many local artists create “static images” (works that don’t move — Bozicnik put “static” in quotes because some paintings, sculptures, etc. do convey movement), having these works of contemporary technology will allow viewers to see how the two modes can convey meaning on a similar subject in different ways. Bozicnik said she hoped this could create a discussion and lead artists to new works.
“I can’t comment [on whether] more artists are doing video art,” Bozicnik said. “But I can say it is now a well-established tool.”
She said such exhibits are seen in museums all around the world and some of the bigger museums have permanent collections and media spaces to showcase art using different technologies. Bozicnik said video art is an art form that, like technology itself, is constantly changing. From its beginning with VHS video tapes, it has evolved to digital work on computers.
“It [video art] has a bright future,” Bozicnik said.
Bozicnik encourages art fans to check out the exhibit. There seems to be a trend in local art (recent exhibits at the Portsmouth Museum of Art and the Sharon Arts Gallery were along the same lines) to move away from the conventional experience of simply viewing pieces from a respectable distance. Bozicnik said this exhibit will allow viewers to engage with the art not only with their eyes but with their bodies and ears.
“It will also elicit a different way to look and think about landscape,” Bozicnik said.